No worries?: Jimmie Johnson still solid in Chase after 3rd-place run

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While defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has been far from awful in 2014, he and his No. 48 team have not quite been on their usual, world-beating form.

That made today’s Chase elimination race at Dover International Speedway important for Johnson in the eyes of some observers.

Johnson was likely to advance to the Contender Round fairly easily, but said observers wanted to see if he would make a statement on a track where he’s won nine Sprint Cup races in his career.

Johnson finished third today behind winner Jeff Gordon and runner-up Brad Keselowski in a steady performance. At the same time, he did not lead a lap at Dover for the first time since 2007.

So should we still be worried about Johnson? That’s probably just going to be our question to answer.

As for Johnson himself, he’s just glad to be moving on after finishes of 12th, fifth, and third in the opening Challenger Round.

“These first three races went pretty well,” Johnson said. “I think Chicago was probably the track where we left the most points on the table. Today, we kind of ran, finished where we ran, but we had a decent car – really strong on the long runs but just would lose too much time to make up the deficit that I had there.

“Good solid day today, happy to advance.”

But now comes the aforementioned Contender Round, which begins next weekend at Kansas, continues on to Charlotte, and ends with the mother of all wild cards at Talladega.

Obviously, nobody wants to be forced into a win or (metaphorically) go home situation heading into the ‘Dega crapshoot.

“If I’m one of the guys that wins at Charlotte or Kansas, it’s sure going to make the race at Talladega fun,” Johnson mused about the next three stops on the Chase. “Otherwise, you’re just going to be on pins and needles and stressing like crazy.

“That’s the strategy, really – try to win one of those first two so you can go to Talladega, pull them tight and let it rip.”

A win at Kansas or Charlotte would not only save him from that stress and push him to the Eliminator Round. It would also further legitimize his bid for a record-tying seventh Cup championship.

But as usual, Johnson and Team 48 won’t look too far ahead and will be taking things one step at a time.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”